“And I love Shakespeare. He wrote some of the rawest stories, man. I mean look at Romeo and Juliet…You got this guy Romeo from the Bloods who falls for Juliet, a female from the Crips, and everybody in both gangs are against them. So they have to sneak out and they end up dead for nothing. Real tragic stuff.”
-Tupac Shakur, Los Angeles Times interview, 1995
You probably know the tragedy of how Tupac Shakur died young from gun violence; you may even know how his life in the arts began. He studied acting at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where, inspired by the death of a friend, he wrote his first rap about gun control. But what you almost certainly don’t know—unless you attended the SphinxCon Inaugural Convening on Diversity in the Performing Arts in Detroit last month—is that Tupac’s school was housed in a building designed by my architect grandfather in the 1920s.
In my remarks at SphinxCon, I shared this coincidence—and Tupac’s love for Shakespeare—as a way of talking about how the arts can diminish the degrees of separation between us. Shakespeare could never have imagined how his work would touch the life of a rap artist in Baltimore, anymore than my grandfather could have known that his granddaughter would blast that rapper’s “Panther Party” for her remarks’ entrance music.
Yet this is the great gift of the arts: to connect us across perceived barriers like race and gender, time and distance; to show how our differences enlarge our shared humanity; and to spur us to action—to manifest that shared humanity in our fractured world.
Viewed from this perspective, the twin foci of our strategic plan—audience engagement and diversity & inclusion—are inextricably intertwined. Theatre engages us as individuals while also connecting us across our intersections of difference. That’s one reason why I’m pleased to announce that both of these areas of strategic focus, along with artistic innovation and financial adaptation, will be featured programmatic arcs at our 2013 National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas from June 6-8.
Additionally, our Pre-Conference will feature the Leading the Charge: Diversity & Inclusion Institute on June 5. Following up on the robust conversations of the 2012 Fall Forum on Governance: Leading the Charge; the Diversity & Inclusion Institute will empower attendees with the tools needed to build diversity action plans. Space is limited for this Pre-Conference, and the deadline for the required letter of intent is April 1, so act now to join us in Dallas!